Ross Detwiler visiting back surgeon for second opinion

(Reed Saxon / AP)

(Reed Saxon / AP)

Nationals left-hander Ross Detwiler will fly to Los Angeles tonight to visit back surgeon Robert Watkins Sr., a renowned specialist who has performed surgery on countless athletes, including New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

The Nationals sent Detwiler to Watkins’ Marina Del Ray office for a “second opinion,” Manager Davey Johnson said. But they are concerned about the strain in the left side of Detwiler’s lower back that has sidelined him since July 4.

“It’s a problem,” Johnson said. “If you have some alignment problems, it can keep causing spasms. He may have some of that. He just may need some back exercises to get strength.”

Detwiler threw a bullpen session Friday. Beforehand, he could not run without discomfort, Johnson said. Pitching coach Steve McCatty told Johnson that Detwiler could not throw with full extension and his pitches lacked their usual crispness.

If Detwiler needs to miss an extended period of time, it would deal the Nationals a significant blow. After his first six starts, Detwiler had a 2.32 ERA. In his next outing, he strained on oblique in the right side of his back. In five starts after his return, Detwiler punched up a 6.31 ERA.

The Nationals have replaced Detwiler with right-hander Taylor Jordan, a rookie from Class AA who will carry a 3.32 ERA into his fifth career start tonight. Jordan is on an innings limit this year, though.

Detwiler’s continued back problems increase the odds that they make a trade. If they do, one person close to the team expects them to target White Sox veteran right-hander Jake Peavy. At this point the Nationals, eight games behind the Braves, would not want to sacrifice future talent for the sake of this season. But Peavy is also under contract next season for $14.5 million.

The Nationals are also preparing internal replacements. Ross Ohlendorf, who has a 2.09 ERA in 26 2/3 innings a starter and reliever this year, will start Friday in a doubleheader against the Mets. Johnson suggested Ohlendorf may receive more chances to start with Detwiler out.

Johnson may consider one unique plan. The Nationals could slide Ohlendorf into the starting rotation and send Jordan back down to the minors. They would then limit Jordan to three to five of innings per start so that he could serve as insurance should any starters at the major league level get hurt, or if the Nationals give up on Dan Haren.

Jordan, 24, in his first full season since 2011 Tommy John surgery, will be monitored and his innings capped. General Manager Mike Rizzo has said the Nationals have “general parameters” for regulating Jordan’s innings, but Manager Davey Johnson has said “it’s not part of the equation yet.” Jordan has thrown a 112 innings between the majors and minors this season. Last season, the Nationals pegged his total to around 80 to 90 innings, which includes innings in games and other work such as extended spring training.

While the Nationals await word on Detwiler, they will welcome another pitcher back. Reliever Ryan Mattheus, who has been on the disabled list since late May with a broken hand, will pitch two innings tonight at Class AAA Syracuse. (The Nationals want him to build endurance, as opposed to groom him for a long relief role.) The Nationals will then give him two days off and activate him for Friday’s doubleheader.

Mattheus’s arrival will allow the Nationals to move Ohlendorf into the rotation. Under that scenario, Craig Stammen would serve as the Nationals’ long reliever.

In the minor leagues, the Nationals prompted A.J. Cole, one of their top pitching prospects, from Class A Potomac to Class AA Harrisburg. Cole pitched in the Futures Game earlier this month. He has a 4.25 ERA and 102 strikeout in 97 innings at Potomac.

Also on Nationals Journal

Tonight's Nationals-Pirates lineups